Paul Babeu Touts Gay Rights While LGBT Inmates in His Jail Suffer

Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu is a practiced political chameleon, a public shape-shifter who changes allegiances and beliefs like most men change socks.

His best-known transformation was into an immigration hard-liner and Fox News pinup boy, a switch from his days as the head of the Chandler Police Union, when he opposed legislative attempts to criminalize the presence of the undocumented.

Later, he achieved the Herculean task of transporting Pinal County itself to the U.S.-Mexico border, though it's, in reality, about 80 miles from it.

See, in 2010 he and Cochise County Sheriff Larry Dever formed the nonprofit Border Sheriffs Project, supposedly for the purpose of defending themselves against lawsuits engendered by Senate Bill 1070, Arizona's breathing-while-brown legislation.

Dever's county is on the border, but Babeu somehow got to be a "border sheriff," too. Interestingly, the organization's website ( no longer pimps Babeu's name and photo, though the group's Twitter page hasn't been so effectively sanitized.

Now, in the wake of the scandal first exposed by my colleague Monica Alonzo, a scandal that implicated Babeu in a mesh of possible legal and ethical violations involving alleged threats made to keep his Mexican ex-lover, Jose Orozco, quiet about their relationship (see "Babeu Revealed," on our website), Babeu's attempting his most radical metamorphosis yet.

That is, into an advocate for gay rights and a defender of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community.

In a recent interview with the D.C.-based weekly Washington Blade, which bills itself as "America's leading gay news source," he practically depicted himself as a gay Green Lantern, a champion and protector of his fellow LGBTers.

Regarding his run in Arizona's ultra-conservative 4th Congressional District, Babeu told the publication that he's "110 percent in."

Why? Because, he said, his candidacy will help change "the views, perceptions, beliefs about who we are." The "we" being those in the LGBT community.

During the interview, Babeu reiterated his support for gay marriage and gays in the military — two positions, it's safe to say, he never would have taken had it not been for the scandal that outed him.

He also offered that he's been in contact with certain LGBT groups, such as Log Cabin Republicans, the nation's best-known gay GOP organization. He framed his current predicament as a fight for a tolerant and just society.

He told the magazine, "In America, we define ourselves by the value we add in out communities." Then he added a sentiment that almost made him sound like a card-carrying member of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"We see our differences as a strength," he stated, "whether it's our religion, our ethnicity, our gender, our [sexual] orientation. Those are the same liberties and freedoms I personally defend and fought for, and that's why I continue to stand up and fight now."

Noble sentiments. Too bad they don't apply to Babeu's own Pinal County Jail, in Florence.

See, Babeu's PCJ is a rat's nest of inequity, according to both the ACLU and various national and international human rights organizations.

In a 2011 report, "In Their Own Words: Enduring Abuse in Arizona Immigration Detention Centers," the ACLU documented (at length) the treatment of immigrant detainees in federal custody, condemning U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for often treating alleged violators of civil immigration code worse than alleged serious criminals.

The study singled out the jail for criticism, noting that the federal government contracts with the PCJ for use of more than 600 beds at the facility for immigrant detainees. This, despite the fact that the PCJ received "deficient" ratings from ICE itself for the years 2007, 2008, and 2009.

As my colleague Gregory Pratt detailed in a New Times exposé on the PCJ ("Huddled Masses," June 23), timed to coincide with the ACLU report, immigrant detainees at the jail frequently are denied access to medical care, aren't allowed contact visits with immediate family, cannot have adequate meetings with lawyers, are denied access to necessary legal resources, and practically never are allowed to breathe outside air or enjoy natural sunlight, making the PCJ unique among federal detention centers in Arizona.

Labeling conditions at the PCJ "extreme and abusive," the report observed that the "punitive environment" at the facility is made worse by jail detention officers, who place inmates on lock-down and issue disciplinary write-ups "for minor issues such as not making a bed, not moving quickly enough, or saving a piece of fruit from their meal to eat later in the day."

ICE's own regulations dictate that immigrant detention should be "truly civil" and non-punitive. Yet immigration detainees at the PCJ cannot exercise outdoors, like prisoners accused of violating state criminal codes.

Mothers and fathers have not been able to touch their visiting children for the duration of their incarceration, which sometimes has stretched for years as their cases get adjudicated.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons